Saturday 13 March 2021

What are cats' whiskers made of?

Cats' whiskers are made of keratin. This is the same substance that makes our finger nails and the claws of our cats. And a cat's fur is made of keratin. A rhino's horn is made of keratin too, by the way, which is why it is so strange that some people think it has medicinal properties. It does not. The reason for the gradual extinction of the rhino is because people think eating rhino horn is beneficial. They might just as well eat their finger nails. It would be a lot cheaper and it would protect the precious rhino.

Cat whiskers are made of keratin
Cat whiskers are made of keratin. Image by Pexels from Pixabay

Keratin is also the material that makes an animal's scales, feathers, hooves and calluses.

So what is keratin? It is a fibrous structural protein. At the cellular level the production of keratin is called 'cornification' which is the process of 'forming an epidermal barrier in stratified squamous epithelial tissue'. Yes, it is very technical.

Keratin has to be strong and it is. Science Direct tells me that "keratins are cysteine-rich proteins endowed by nature with high mechanical strength owing to the large number of disulphide bonds". More technical stuff.

Never trim a cat's whiskers. They need them for a range of tasks. They are connected to a mass of nerves in the muzzle which allows whiskers to 'feel' air currents which in turn allows cats to detect objects that they can't see. They are also used to detect the exact location of the vertebrae in the neck of prey so the cat can severe it with a precise bite.

You might see whiskers being trusted forwards like tentacles when a cat has something interesting in front of him. They are reaching out to detect what that interesting object is.

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